India’s gets its first anti-corruption ombudsman
- Pinaki Chandra Ghose has been appointed as the chairman of India’s Lokpal or anti-corruption ombudsman.
- The formation of India’s anti-corruption ombudsman has been pending for the past six years since the
Lokpal Billwas first passed in 2013.
- The Lokpal has the authority to look into incidents of corruption at all levels of public service, including the Prime Minister.
The formation of a committee that will look into incidents of corruption within the Indian government has been in the works for six years now, since the Lokpal Act was first passed in 2013.
It was only in September last year that a selection committee was formed led by Ranjana Prakash, a former Supreme Court Chief Justice, and chaired by India’s current prime minister, Narendra Modi.
Even then, the leader of the opposition, Mallikarjun Kharge — who is also a member of the Lokpal — refused to attend the meetings. Not that it hindered the selection process since the Supreme Court’s clarification in 2017 where they ruled that the Leader of the Opposition need not necessarily be present in order for the committee to decide on the appointments for the Lokpal.
What exactly is an anti-corruption ombudsman?
As per the Lokpal Act, 2013, the anti-corruption ombudsman or Lokpal has the power to investigate any complaint of corruption against any public entity — including the Prime Minister. But, in order to conduct an investigation into the Prime Minister, it must be approved by two-thirds of the committee.
It supersedes the authority of any other investigating agency, even the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Any officer of the CBI that’s on a case that was assigned by the Lokpal can’t even transfer out without prior approval from the ombudsman.
Aside from investigation complaints of corruption, it’s also the Lokpal’s responsibility to make sure that any public officer who is a whistleblower is protected on their watch.
The idea to put an anti-corruption ombudsman in place was first floated back in 1963 during a parliamentary session when the law ministry’s budget was being discussed. A bill for its formation even reached parliament in 1968 but despite eight attempts — none actually passed.
It was only in 2013 that the Lokpal Act finally passed, that too after a nationwide protest led by India Against Corruption — a civil society movement that was led by the activist, Anna Hazare.
Six years later, the Supreme Court of India told the Indian government to form a committee to appoint the country’s first Lokpal in January. An NGO called Common Cause even filed a petition and contempt petition in 2014 over the delay.
It’s not just the central government of delay that subject to delay. Most states are also yet to appoint Lokayuktas, something that was supposed to be in place within a year of the Lokpal Act kicking in.